“Hot Girl, Cold Date”
If not for his deep attraction to her, Gary would’ve canceled his dinner with Nikki. He didn’t care that she was unfriendly toward him, and he didn’t care that she’d essentially called him ugly. But he did care that she had another date after him, and he didn’t think that was fair. He knew she would be spending their entire dinner thinking about the other guy. He wanted her to respect him, to actually want to go out with him for a second time, so he had to come up with a plan to get her mind in the right place, on him.
He figured flowers weren’t going to be enough. Flowers were generic, the kind of thing a man gifts a woman he already knows and has nothing left to prove to, and that didn’t come close to describing his relationship with Nikki. No, he had to go bigger. But relationships, and the art of building relationships, wasn’t exactly his thing. When he was dating Victoria, he had gone all in, but that amounted to nothing much in the end. He knew that whatever he did for her probably wouldn’t work for Nikki, either.
Against his better judgment, he asked Shawn for advice. Shawn, never short on ideas, decided that he’d tag along on the date, just to feed him lines as needed.
“I don’t think that would work,” Gary said. “You’d distract her, and probably turn me into my own third wheel.”
“Dude, I’m okay with that,” Shawn said. “You should be, too.”
“You sure? Nikki’s hot.”
“I’m sure. Thanks.”
At five o’clock, Gary entered the Yoyo Crunch Bistro, a seafood restaurant with a kid’s cereal theme, and took his seat. Nikki had expected him to pick her up for the dinner, but changed her mind at the last minute. She said she had to get over her fears of taking the bus again, so she’d meet him there. So, he sat in the waiting room for thirty minutes waiting for the table and another ten waiting for Nikki. Shawn, who had tagged along against Gary’s wishes, took the seat next to him and stared through the pane window before him.
“I don’t think she’s coming, man,” he said.
Shawn looked at the screen on his phone.
“It’s 5:40. She said she’d be here at five. Maybe you should call it what it is.”
“It isn’t that.”
“I appreciate your sense of denial, but I don’t think it’s powerful enough to get her walking through that door.”
“She’ll be here.”
The server approached the table. She was a demure girl with high eyebrows and lots of patience displayed on her face. Her smile was friendly and her uniform was splotched with primary colors.
“You guys ready to order?” she asked.
“Not yet,” said Gary.
“I’ll have the crab soufflé,” said Shawn. “Coat it with a dash of sesame sauce. I’ll take the pumpkin crackers on the side.”
The server scribbled everything on her notepad. Then she tapped the ink tip against the last word she wrote, looked up, and smiled.
“And for you, sir?” she asked Gary.
Gary shook his head.
Shawn smacked him in the biceps.
“It’s 5:43. She’s not coming.”
Gary leaned in on his elbows and sighed. As much as he feared to admit it, he knew Shawn was right.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll have a shrimp parmesan.”
Ten minutes later, the dishes arrived. Five minutes after that, or about halfway through finishing his meal, Nikki came walking in.
Gary’s mouth hung open as she approached the table. The pasta dripping off his fork fell off completely. She strolled to the empty chair and sat down. Then she ripped off her purple sunglasses like a television cop and stared at the plate under Gary’s hand.
“Couldn’t wait for me, huh?” she said. “Nice first impression, pal.”
Gary dropped the fork to his plate.
“I thought you weren’t—”
She ignored him. Put her focus on Shawn instead.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked.
“Wingman,” Shawn said. “Here to make sure you don’t break my friend’s heart.”
“How can I break his heart if we’re not dating?”
“I’m sure you’ll figure that out.”
Nikki brushed her hand through the air, signaling to Shawn that it was time to get lost.
“I’m not a fly,” he said.
“Nevertheless, I’d like you to buzz off.”
Shawn glanced at Gary. Gary nodded that it was okay, that he could handle himself.
“Okay, fine. I’ll take my crab soufflé elsewhere.” He pointed his fork at Nikki’s face. “You better not send him home crying.” Then he showed her the screen on his phone. “5:53! Be on time next time. Horrible first impression, woman.”
Shawn left. Gary looked down at his plate and shook his head. His first dinner date with Nikki was off to a terrible start. He should’ve guessed it would go this way. It was very similar to how his relationship with Victoria had begun. He didn’t know why he expected different.
The date itself was no better. Gary had spent the entire night before thinking about the perfect way to win her over, but he couldn’t get past bringing her flowers. Chocolates were an option, but he didn’t know her stance on chocolate and didn’t know if she’d love it or hate it, so he left it out of the equation. He also thought bringing her a pony was too over the top and expensive, even if it made a grander gesture, and one she might even remember someday; he didn’t know where in this town he’d find a pony anyway. In the end, he had settled on bringing her a plastic bracelet, cheap yet symbolic of the diamond tennis bracelet he hoped he could buy for her someday years down the road when he was rich and she was married to him. But then he forgot to bring it with him, so he didn’t have anything to offer her.
She didn’t notice his snafu, and he didn’t bring it up. He just kept her attention on the conversation instead, hoping it would be enough to keep her interested. Then he started talking about his dinner, which was almost gone. She got bored immediately. When her dinner, a broccoli platter, had finally arrived at 6:38, Gary was in the middle of telling her about the history of the Roman Empire. She immediately put her hand in a halting position as soon as the plate hit the table.
“Okay, I’m going to eat now. We can talk after I finish.”
Gary watched her take each piece of broccoli between her thumb and forefinger, and gingerly stuff it in her mouth. She chewed each piece about forty times before swallowing. Bigger pieces took her as many as fifty chews. When she was just a quarter of the way through her plate, she burped. Didn’t bother excusing herself. Gary pushed his own plate aside, now that it was empty. He leaned into his elbows and stared at her while she chewed. The silence was killing him.
“So, when the Roman emperor said—”
“Don’t care. Eating.”
Her words were slightly muffled in the broccoli mush swirling in her mouth, but Gary could understand what she was saying. She was saying that she was more interested in food than in conversation. He leaned back and nodded. This was officially the worst date he’d ever had, and he had no idea why it had to be with the most beautiful girl who’d ever said yes to dinner with him. It seemed that luck was based on a sliding scale.
At exactly 6:45, Nikki pushed her plate away—she still had more than a third of her dinner left to eat—and backed off from the table. Her chair made a rough squeaking noise along the surface of the polished wooden floor.
“Okay,” she said. Then she stood up and draped her purse strap over her right shoulder. “I’m ready to go.”
Gary watched as she took her sunglasses off the table and stuffed them in her open purse. She was watching him back.
When Gary made no effort to move, Nikki beckoned him to stand.
“Come on, pay the bill already,” she said. “I’ve got somewhere to be at seven.”
“You don’t have to wait for me,” he said. “If you have to go, then go.”
She tapped her foot against the floor. The hollow wood made a thumping sound just over the white noise of nearby idle chatter. Her eyes were veering focus toward the ceiling.
“The bus won’t get here until after seven. I need you to drive me.”
“Drive you where?”
She reached into her purse and checked her phone.
“Wild Luck Hut.”
Gary wrinkled his nose. Something about that name rubbed him the wrong way.
“I heard of that place. What is it?”
“Where I’m supposed to go. Look, don’t worry about it. Just be a gentleman and drop me off, ‘kay?”
Gary reached for his wallet and pulled out a credit card. He passed it to the server when he caught her heading back for the kitchen. She had put not just his and Nikki’s dinners on the tab, but Shawn’s, too.
After he paid the bill, he led Nikki to his car, an old Ford, and opened the passenger door for her. At this point, he didn’t care about salvaging the date. She was certainly a joy to look at, but not to be around. If this was what it was like to date a beautiful woman, he thought, then he would just stick with the Plain Janes from now on. He certainly didn’t want to waste his time on someone he’d have to seek out on the street.
He waited for her to take the passenger seat before closing the door—it had taken him great effort not to close it while she was still climbing in. Just before he completed the seal, he heard something drift out of her mouth. It sounded almost like gratitude. He was certain he’d misheard her.
The Wild Luck Hut was just a few blocks away, it turned out. She probably could have covered the distance by foot and still gotten there by seven. But she was wearing stiletto heels, and Gary had heard on more than one occasion that high heels of any kind were difficult to walk in, certainly at a clipped pace. So, even though he didn’t want to spend another moment with her, he understood why she would want the ride, and why he would need to offer it to her. Even if the date was awful, he still had to do the right thing, and making a young, beautiful woman walk the streets in stiletto heels at night in the short black skirt she was wearing was not the right thing. The right thing didn’t require him to speak to her again, just to get her to her next destination safely.
When Gary parked at the curb a few doors down from the club, he waited for her to climb out, but she didn’t move. She held her gaze out the window for the next ten seconds. Gary squeezed the vinyl in his steering wheel, imagining that sweet moment when she’d get out and stay out of his life for good, giving him room to date a less attractive but more interesting woman in the near future. Her hand made no motion for the door handle. When nearly a minute passed without action of any kind, he finally dared to ask her what was taking her so long.
“You haven’t opened my door yet,” she said.
Gary closed his eyes and smiled at his ill luck. He was doing the gentlemanly thing by bringing her here, but he hadn’t anticipated having to walk her all the way to the club entrance. By her expecting him to open the car door for her, she had made it obvious that she was going to milk his generosity to the very end.
“Sorry,” he said.
He climbed out of the cabin and walked around the front of the hood to reach her passenger door. Then he opened it. She extended her slender hand to him. He took it and lightly pulled her toward him. She stepped out one slender leg at a time and leaned forward, nearly losing her balance from the shaky heels she was wearing, recovering her stance by grabbing his shoulder with her other hand. Her face got close enough to his in her rebalancing that he could sense the warmth of her breath. At some point between broccoli and the Wild Luck Hut, she had slipped a mint in her mouth. When she released his shoulder, her deep blue eyes flashed briefly at him. They were intoxicating to say the least.
“You may as well walk me to the door,” she said.
Gary had already anticipated her demand—well, request—something in between—and was gently pulling her toward the curb before she finished speaking. Her hand was smooth, and he liked the sensation of her touch, and he decided that even though he didn’t like her in the slightest, he liked her enough to hold her hand all the way to the club’s entrance. And when he opened the studded leather doors for her, he hesitated to release her grip.
“Okay, well thanks,” she said.
She broke the hold for him, but she didn’t scurry away just yet. She held his gaze for just a moment. Then she did something he didn’t expect she’d ever do. She smiled at him.
“You’re a nice guy.”
Then she patted him on the biceps. Then she stepped through the doorway.
Against all sound sense or judgment, Gary followed her in. She might’ve been ready to start her 7:00 date with her “boyfriend,” but Gary wasn’t quite as ready to end his date with her as he’d thought just a moment ago.